“Anybody can take a picture,” I’m told.
You cannot image how many times I’ve heard this. It’s said to my face because the patron thinks I’m being paid a compliment! It’s said as he or she is looking at my Polaroid Paintings, where I use the emulsion as a painting medium. Because I’ve altered the image by hand, the work has been elevated to the realm of “art.” I’m no longer “just” a photographer, but an artist.
“You’ve almost made art here!” one woman gushed in appreciation. I took a breath. Yeah, I thought. I came THIS close!
Can anyone take a picture? Sure. Can anyone pick up a brush and paint? Sure. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be art.
It’s such a narrow definition — art. And made more complicated in the field of photography because of the easy availability of cameras. Everyone has one — or three. Pull out a phone, and pull out a camera. People have stood in my booth at art fairs and scrolled through dozens of “great” pictures they took. They’re saying to me: See? I can take good pictures too! We’re part of the same club.
Maybe we are. It’s a pretty big club and they’re lots of room for everyone, but that doesn’t mean all the work is the same.
I will agree with the idea that “anyone can make a picture.” But that’s not the same thing as creating a work of art in the medium of photography.
“Is photography art?” is an argument as old as the medium itself. Every generation takes it up again and makes new rules. In the digital age, there are some who call themselves “purists” who insist that if the image is not captured on film and developed in the darkroom, then it’s not “real” fine art photography.
Oh, feh! I’ve seen plenty of crappy work come out of the darkroom. Honestly, if you want to be a “purist,” then coat your own glass plates and make images on those. If not, then shut up with the arrogance.
It’s not the tool or the substrate that makes the art (though please don’t take iPhone pictures and call them art. I know — that’s my arrogance — but please!!!!) Then what is it?
It’s the ability to take a great photograph… and then do it again.
It’s the courage to try something new, and learn from it.
It’s the thoughtfulness to create an image in your imagination, then transfer that image to film or paper or sensor.
It’s the knowledge of how to transfer your ideas to paper or film, without guessing or hoping for the best, but knowing.
It’s the deliberate and purposeful communication of an idea or a feeling or a mood with an image … without adding anything words or explanations.
It’s the commitment to create a body of work, in your vision, that is recognizable as yours.
It’s the confidence to let your work speak for itself, and allow the viewer to add his or her own interpretation.
Art takes time. Art takes thought. Art takes labor.
There’s a reason it’s call a work of art.
Arcadian Dreams #12, Infrared photograph ©2010 Jeane Vogel. All rights reserved.